Britain will use its international aid budget to boost its own interests while also seeking to deepen trade ties with Africa, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday, countering critics who say aid funds would be better spent at home.
May, battling to unite her divided Conservative Party over her plan to take Britain out of the European Union, is visiting South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya on her first official trip to the continent.
In a speech in Cape Town, May said she wanted Britain to become the biggest investor in Africa out of the Group of Seven nations, overtaking the United States, by using the aid budget to help British companies invest on the continent.
The government has held out the prospect of increased trade with non-European Union countries as one of the major selling points of Brexit as it prepares to leave the bloc, currently its biggest trading partner, in March next year.
In April, Britain hosted a meeting of Commonwealth countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, seeking to reinvigorate the network of mostly former colonies and drum up new trade amongst its members.
May recommitted to maintaining the overall British aid budget at 0.7 percent of economic output but said she would use it in a way that helped Britain.
“I am unashamed about the need to ensure that our aid programme works for the UK,” May said.
“Today I am committing that our development spending will not only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest.”
Britain’s overseas aid last year was 13.9 billion pounds ($18 billion). The budget has come under fire from many of May’s own lawmakers, who say it is too high and should be spent elsewhere or in Britain itself.